CD: Ryan Adams - 1989 | reviews, news & interviews
CD: Ryan Adams - 1989
CD: Ryan Adams - 1989
Work of art or fan-service curiosity? A little of both, actually...
Back in the early 2000s, it was rumoured that Ryan Adams had covered Is This It by The Strokes in its entirety. According to my extensive cataloguing of the career of Americana’s enfant terrible, only “Last Nite” ever surfaced (I have a live version, which opens with a couple of versions of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”), but the point is that Ryan Adams is no stranger to these sonic experiments. Which is why, as a huge fan of both artists I have found it both amusing and perplexing to watch the internet collectively lose its shit over Adams’ version of Taylor Swift’s 1989.
The parallels between the two artists are actually pretty striking. Both owe their careers, in part, to the country scene (she, Nashville; he, North Carolina); both later developed an association with New York. And both have released an album for a year of the 1980s - it’s just that one of them was a vinyl-only release on the songwriter’s own label, and the other was an international multi-platinum-selling pop behemoth.
I’ve already described 1989 as the work of a skilled songwriter mature beyond her years, so Adams’ reinvention of its songs reveals few surprises: indeed, I got over the sad-eyed boy-with-an-acoustic-guitar cover of a pop song around my third show after Rihanna’s “Umbrella” came out, and I’m not the sort of critic who thinks your songs are somehow deeper if they reference Sonic Youth rather than James Dean. My biggest disappointment with Adams’ take on 1989 is really just how same-y the whole thing sounds after a while: the bright, jagged edges of “All You Had to Do Was Stay” are flattened; the giddy pop magnificence of “Blank Space” is reinvented as a finger-picked dirge that misses the point entirely. And while Adams’ “Welcome to New York” as dusty road movie soundtrack is enjoyable, it’s not a patch on Swift’s wide-eyed arrival bursting with possibilities.
But there are moments of grace and beauty here that elevate the collection above the fan-service curiosity it would have been in less able hands, and they - perhaps unsurprisingly - come on Swift songs that I never took to heart. “Bad Blood” could have been written for this format (although the video probably would have been different), while I wouldn’t be surprised if Adams’ sombre, piano-driven take on “This Love” showed up in a future Taylor Swift set, much like Noel Gallagher once took his “Wonderwall” to heart. I'll still be cueing up the originals after a spin of this one, though.
Overleaf: compare Ryan Adams' "Bad Blood" with Taylor Swift's original
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